10 Rabbis Throw Their Kippahs Into Ring in Race for Israel's Chief Rabbinate

Rabbi Eliyahu remains in race despite attorney general's objections in light of racism allegations; final list includes six candidates for chief Sephardi rabbi and four for Ashkenazi post.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The number of candidates for the Chief Rabbinate rose to 10 Wednesday night, after rabbis Eliyahu Abergel and Ratzon Arusi threw their kippahs into the ring just before the candidate list closed.

The final list thus includes six candidates to become the chief Sephardi rabbi and four to become the chief Ashkenazi rabbi. Both chief rabbis will be elected in a week’s time in Jerusalem.

The finalists for Sephardi chief rabbi are Yitzhak Yosef, Yehuda Deri, Shmuel Eliyahu, Zion Boaron, Abergel and Arusi. The finalists for Ashkenazi chief rabbi are David Stav, Eliezer Igra, Yaakov Shapira and David Lau.

Yosef is the son of Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and head of the Hazon Ovadia yeshiva. He won his father’s support after the latter’s preferred candidate − his eldest living son, Avraham Yosef − was interrogated by the police on suspicion of breach of trust, conflict of interests and inappropriate conduct.

Be’er Sheva Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri is also associated with the ultra-Orthodox party: His brother is Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, whose inflammatory racist statements have raised a furor over the years, was urged by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday to step down from the race for chief rabbi. Weinstein told Eliyahu it would be inappropriate for him to run for the post of Sephardi chief rabbi in view of his contentious remarks and the “legal difficulties” posed by his candidacy.

While Weinstein is not authorized to disqualify Eliyahu, his statement means that if Eliyahu is elected, the state will not defend the choice if it is challenged in court.

MK Issawi Freij ‏(Meretz‏) asked the High Court of Justice earlier this week to order the state to disqualify Eliyahu’s candidacy. His petition is based on a series of anti-Arab remarks and religious rulings made by Eliyahu over the years, including prohibitions on renting or selling properties in Sefad to Arabs and calls for the expulsion of Arab students from the city’s Zefat Academic College.

The court scheduled a hearing on the petition for July 22, two days before an assembly of 150 public representatives is scheduled to select the next chief rabbis. Though Freij’s petition against Eliyahu was the first, additional ones may be forthcoming.

But despite the petition and Weinstein’s announcement, Eliyahu continued campaigning.

Boaron, the fourth candidate, is a judge on the Rabbinical Court of Appeals. He is supported by outgoing Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

Abergel, the president of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, and Arusi, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono, are both independent candidates, and thus had difficulty obtaining the required 20 signatures until the last moment. The Ministry for Religious Services said on Wednesday that it is checking for duplication among the signatures submitted by the various nominees before approving their candidacies.

Stav is the chief rabbi of Shoham and chairman of Tzohar, an organization of moderate religious Zionist rabbis. He is supported by the Habayit Hayehudi party and most Jewish Knesset factions.

Lau, the chief rabbi of Modi’in and son of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, is a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the prime minister’s associates are reportedly campaigning for him.

Shapira heads the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the religious Zionist movement’s flagship institution. Igra, like Boaron, is a judge on the Rabbinical Court of Appeals.

Rabbi Zion Boaron.Credit: Emil Salman

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